For Bidhannagar Municipality, the vacant residential plots are yielding pots of gold. Every plot-owner, who failed to start construction after getting possession, is now being made to cough up a hefty sum before he is allowed to build his house.
The municipality has hit upon an excuse to levy the charge: expenses of clearing the “garbage accumulated over the years while the plot was vacant” (forget the fact that the owner could have been away in Boston or Bhowanipore and would not have come all the way to Salt Lake to dump refuse).
But residents and their representative associations say the charge is “unjustified and arbitrary”. “One person is being asked to pay Rs 68,000, while another gets away with Rs 8,000,” claimed Bidhannagar House-Owners’ Association executive committee member K.S. Sengupta. “There seems to be something inherently unjust in the system,” agreed association general secretary Arun Ganguly.
Take the case of Anjan Mitra, owner of a plot in AC Block. A confusion within the municipality over the right to transfer property between members of a family delayed his construction plans for more than two years. When the municipality finally decided there was no bar on him going ahead with the construction, it also handed him a bill of Rs 35,000 — spent in clearing the garbage that had accumulated in his plot over the years.
Mitra was surprised, not the least because he had laid out a garden on the four cottah-plus plot so that it did not become a dump for refuse, and took his case to senior municipality officials. His bill was halved within a few minutes. “But I had to pay the amount the same day,” Mitra said on Sunday.
Councillor of Salt Lake’s ward no. 10 Sabyachachi Datta agreed that residents were being harassed. “There are many government plots that have been lying vacant for years on end,” he said. “Why are only ordinary citizens being harassed'” he asked.
Besides, there were many counts on which the authorities were unable to justify the rates. “The ‘fine’ is being demanded with a cut-off date in 1995,” association general secretary Ganguly said. “So, a person whose plot has been vacant since 1985 and another whose plot has been vacant since 1995 are being fined the same amount,” he pointed out.
Civic chairman Dilip Gupta felt the charge was justified. “The municipality has to clear garbage and, in the process, uses up money meant for development,” he said. “Empty plots often become garbage dumps. We know what we are doing,” he added.